Precise microplastic risk assessment requirements
By: Nabil Hajji
The Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) is part of a prestigious national programme that connects businesses with leading knowledge bases, such as universities, to deliver innovation projects. Drawing on unique expertise from colleagues at William Harvey Research Institute at Queen Mary University of London, the team will collaborate to develop a comprehensive microplastic risk assessment tool.
WRc has been leading research in drinking water quality in the UK since 1953 and is now turning its research spotlight to the challenges of the future. Whilst our expert toxicologists have long been trusted to identify and assess the risks of chemicals to human health, this new workstream will uncover and quantify the true health cost of plastic pollution in the environment.
Key to the project is Dr Fisayo Olotu, who joins WRc as KTP Associate, to lead the project from both a research and a commercial perspective.
Fisayo was first drawn to the KTP by the opportunity to do the kind of research that can be taken out of the lab and bring about real impact – something which he describes as “a dream”.
A seasoned scientific researcher, Fisayo has been working in laboratories since doing his master's at University of Ibadan, Nigeria, where he started out undertaking human health risk assessments on drugs used for the treatment of tuberculosis. Whilst his specialism as a biological research scientist has led Fisayo into numerous pharmacology projects (more recently working on drug development research with medications for HIV and malaria), his experience of in-silico (or computational) testing methods set him up well for a tenure at WRc.
After discovering that computational modelling approaches allowed him to produce human risk assessments with more accuracy than his previous methods, Fisayo’s research focus shifted to molecular modelling research.
Now, joining scientists at both WRc and Queen Mary, including Technical Director of Toxicology Dr Nabil Hajji, Fisayo says he’s excited to support the development of an end-to-end solution which will harness the power of both in-silico and in-vitro testing.
Part-funded by government-endorsed scheme, Innovate UK, the KTP team will seek to examine the specific impacts of microplastics on human health. Fisayo’s role in the project is critical in implementing the physical infrastructure needed to make those tests accurate and reliable across a broad spectrum of samples. It is expected that the project will be a significant forerunner to the regulatory intervention needed to tackle the increasing presence of plastic in food and drinking water.
The project is not alone in supporting WRc’s colleagues in the water industry to respond to contemporary concerns: experts across WRc are also leading research and innovation in areas such as desalination and decarbonisation. This future-led approach is critical in pushing towards a stronger and more sustainable balance between society and nature.
Fisayo says that this microplastics project will “answer critical questions that haven’t been answered yet” – and his enthusiasm to make a tangible difference to people’s lives is evident in the way he talks about his work.
A first timer in the UK, the Nigerian-born has already been exploring London and the south of England and is particularly hoping to catch an Arsenal match or two – although he says he is already very busy!
Results from the first phase of the KTP are expected in summer 2024, when clients will be able to access bespoke testing for microplastics from WRc’s laboratory in Swindon. In the meantime, WRc is delighted to welcome Fisayo to the team and to bring his extensive expertise as a biological researcher to the water industry.
Though our Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with Innovate UK, our team are working on standardised analytical methodologies to categorise microplastics, in order to understand the potential impact and ability of microplastics to penetrate ecosystems and food chains.More about the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP)